In 1829 and 1830, Charlotte and Branwell cobbled the pages together from printed waste and scrap paper, perhaps cut from margins of discarded pamphlets. They wrote with steel-nibbed pens, which tend to blot, yet the even script demonstrates their practiced hand.
Only about 20 volumes of Brontë juvenilia are known to remain. Harvard holds nine, the Brontë Museum at the family home in England owns a few, and the remaining are scattered among museums and private collectors.
To repair tears, Anderson used fine surgical instruments, teasing out and pasting down individual fibers of kozo paper about the width of a human hair. (Kozo is a fine paper made from the inner bark of an Asian plant, and is regularly used to mend books.) All through the painstaking work, she knew even a small mistake would be magnified. “I held my breath, literally,” said Anderson, “to keep fragments of paper from blowing away.”
New binding exposed text in the gutters of Branwell’s volumes for the first time in 170 years, and the digital technology deployed provides clarity beyond that of the human eye. Technicians moved the camera very slightly on multiple takes and combined them into one image. Every millimeter is sharply focused.
Charlotte’s husband sold the volumes after her death to a collector, who gave them to poet and fellow collector Amy Lowell; she donated the set to Houghton Library in 1925.
The nine Brontë volumes held by Harvard referenced in this story are available in full, free, online:
By Charlotte Brontë: Scenes on the great bridge, November 1829
The silver cup: a tale, October 1829
Blackwoods young mens magazine, August 1829
An interesting passage in the lives of some eminent personages of the present age, June 1830
The poetaster: a drama in two volumes, July 1830
The adventures of Mon. Edouard de Crack, February 1830
By Patrick Branwell Brontë:
Branwells Blackwoods magazine, June 1829
Magazine, January 1829
Branwells Blackwoods magazine, July 1829
Read all: news.harvard.edu/the-genesis-of-genius